The sculptural tradition is the most vsknown Pictish art but another forme, less visible, has also created real masterpieces: pictish goldsmithing.

The art symbol of power

The art of the Iron Age and early Middle Ages is intrinsically linked to the social, economic, intellectual and religious life of the society in which it develops. A traditional symbol of power, it was at the service of the elites and participated in the establishment of an identity and the unification of society during multiple socio-political developments. With art, the elites control _ _ _ the raw materials and their circuit, that is to say from the extraction to the artists, who transform the precious metal into objects of prestige.

But who were these artists ? What was their place in society?

Dare artists atu service of the society

The researchers sthey are Ia long time turned towards Romano-British culture andn eclipsing the iron age culture and shas continuity during the post-Roman period, from now on the trend is reversed .

In Britain, the diversity of Celtic art suggests that the territories were organized into schools and artists’ studios. Indeed, artistic specialties have distinguished themselveses in certain geographical areas, such as London, East Anglia or the‘Scotland. Some Iron Age workshops continuegoent their activities until 5and-6and century AD. AD and adaytiment technical innovations to their repertoire, such as tinning of surfaces, nielloing or the use ofa Millefiori glass. The manufacture of metal objects reveals the remarkable know-how of artists and craftsmen, an enigmatic know-how for the majority of the population. Shrouded in an aura of mystery, artists probably had a unique status within society.

In Scotland, dDuring the High Middle Ages, themoney was the main thing precious metal used, as shown in the prestigious treasures of the island of Saint-Ninian (1958) and Norrie’s Law (1819). Dhe crucibles and molds have also summer found during excavations and Mstep forward a high q metallurgyuality (fig.1 and 2). At Rhynie, excavations have revealed local artistic production with the repetition of the ax motif (fig.2).

Rhynie mold

Fig. 1: mold discovered in Rhynie (source: university ofAberdeenot).

Rhynie ax pin mold

Fig 2 : _ to the leftouch d‘a pin shaped ax found in Rhynie, on the right, pin in the shape of an ax specific to the site of Rhynie, it is to be associated with the sculpted stone “Rhynie Man” whose warrior holds an ax (source: University of Aberdeen, 2016).

Of course, faced with this exceptional metallurgy, we must not forget that of ordinary parts which are beginning to be studied consequent (Elizabeth Fowler). However, in this article, I will show you the most important Pictish treasures . resplendent, and sometimes intriguing, discovered to date.

The treasure of Norrie’s Law, recycling well before its time

norrie's lax treasure

Fig. 3 : treasure of Norrie’s Law, we observe cut objects (top), necklaces, a pin or even a plaque decorated with Pictish symbols (source: NMS) .

The Norrie’s Law hoard (Fife, 6th-7th c.) is the most important find of the early Middle Ages. It represents a rare testimony to the economic and artistic functioning of Pictish society. Indeed, the 170 fragments give clues to the practices of use precious resources: the sources of supply of silver ores could come from mines, exchanges, tribes, raids or gifts but also simple reuses of objects, some of which were of Roman origin and (treasure of Traprain Law). contemporaries from the Norrie’s Law hoard, voluntarily cut pieces of metal to be traded or transformed ( fig . 3). Nothing was wasted! In addition, these prestige items are unique, pfor example, Iat teardrop plate is decorated with Pictish symbols: we see a Z-rod, a double disc with sortingkèIands and a c hien (fig.3 and 4). The plaque is one of the few items in the hoard to be authenticated as Pictish.

Cistus tomb of Rhynie ancient civilizations

Fig. 4: Norrie’s Law hoard, details of the plate decorated with Pictish symbols, the one on the right, less worn, is a copy of the 19th century, like the majority of the objects in the hoard (source: NMS).

Brooches of Saint-Ninian

Brooches of Saint-Ninin

Fig.5: Treasure of Saint-Ninian (source: NMS).

Dating from the 8th century. , the treasury of the island of Sant-Ninian (fig.5) consists of 28 objects of late Pictish forms, that is to say when the Christian and island cultures mingle more durably on the whole of the territory. The treasure consists mainly of pins (fig.6), they form, with the buckles and the plate-buckles of belts , objects of ornaments closely associated to social status of the bearer. Even though the art of this period is dedicated to the glory of God, the aristocracy continues to order manifest objectsant their status, like quasi-annular spindlesand encountered in Ireland (Tara spit) and in Wales at 6and-8and century.

Brooches of Saint-Ninian

Fig.6: Brooches from the treasure of Saint-Ninian (source: NMS)

Two types of brooches are observed in the British Isles:

– Ihas pin penannular” (English term) or “quasi-annular” (the famous brooch “Celtic” whose term should be avoided );

– the pseudo-penannular” pin , its subtype.

The “penannular” brooch consists of a ring open whereas the pseudo-penannular pin consists ofa ring firm who however retains Ihe terminals that characterize the open ring of the penannular pin. In Ireland, at the beginning of the Middle Ages, the most elaborate brooches are “pseudo-penannular” while in Scotland, the penannular” brooches seem privileged. Their terminals are usually lobed or square (fig.6) but the treasure of Saint-Ninian hides a particularly majestic specimen: a brooch with animal head terminals (fig.7). The design of Pictish brooches is more homogeneous than Irish brooches, and under continental influence its decor becomes more ornate.

Fig.7: Brooch with animal head terminals (source: NMSurce: NMS).


The elements metallic Picts are varied and their manufacture calls upon techniques of goldsmithing and ironwork various inherited from the Iron Age and having acquireds innovations over time. The jewels, like the objects of worship (fig.8), have original patterns as well as colors and diversified materials. From 843, the Scots took up the torch of Pictish culture, Hunterston’s brooch (fig.9) is a perfect representation.

The Pictish culture remains mysterious in many respects, nevertheless, one thing is certain, it knew how to distinguish itself from its neighbors and mark time and space.

Fig.8: “Mount” (8th century), object whose meaning remains unknown (source: NMS).

Fig.8: Hunterston brooch (8th century), royal commission (source: NMS).

– AOROC, archeology and philology, CNRS:
– National Museums Scotland:
– The Celtic tree:
– Meet the picts:

Henderson & Henderson, The Art of the Picts, London, 2004.
James Graham-Campbell, Pictish Silver: Status and Symbol. In: HM Chadwick Memorial Lectures 13. Cambridge 2002.
Graham-Campbell James, Norrie’s Law, Fife: on the nature and dating of the silver hoard. Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. 121, 1991, 241–259.
Fowler, Elizabeth. Celtic Metalwork of the fifth and sixth centuries AD: A Reappraisal, Archaeological Journal 120 (1963), 99160
Fowler, Elizabeth. The origins and developments of the penannular brooch in Europe, Proceedings of Prehistorical Society, XXVI, 1960, Cambridge, 149–177 (with the next paper initiated the Fowler typology).